The India Council of Medical Research, in a study, said plasma therapy for COVID-19 neither reduces the death risk nor does it slow down the progression of the disease from mild to severe stage.
In plasma therapy, antibodies from the blood of a person who has recovered from coronavirus are taken and transfused into a coronavirus infected patient to boost the immune system to fight the infection.
A trial by the India Council of Medical Research (ICMR) was conducted on 464 moderately-ill patients with breathing difficulties and an oxygen saturation level of less than 93 percent. They were divided into two groups -- 235 were given plasma while 229 received only standard care. Those in the intervention group (235 patients) were transfused with two doses of 200 ml plasma 24 hours apart. Both intervention and control groups were compared after 28 days.
A total of 34 patients or 13.6 percent of those who received plasma therapy could not recover and died, the top medical body said, while 31 patients or 14.6 percent of those who did not receive plasma died. The study said 17 patients in each group progressed to have severe disease.
Plasma therapy, however, had minor benefits in reducing symptoms like shortness of breath and fatigue and it had no effect on other symptoms like fever and cough.
Several states like Delhi, Odisha, Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu are conducting plasma therapy to tackle the outbreak of coronavirus. In Delhi, plasma therapy has been given to more than 700 patients and has been widely promoted by the Delhi government.
Government officials did not respond to a request for comment on the study.
Doctors and experts, meanwhile, said they have witnessed the benefits of plasma therapy in treating coronavirus patients.
Dr. SK Sarin, head of Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences - which conducted Delhi's first plasma therapy trial and also has a plasma bank, said: "The study conducted by ICMR does not mean that all gates are now closed for plasma therapy. The study also says that there are certain benefits and there are no adverse effects. ICMR's own study says that it helped with symptoms like shortness of breath and fatigue."
He said in the US, 65,000 people have been given plasma therapy and it is still going on. "If such an advanced nation like America is administering plasma therapy upon such a large number of people, then surely there is a benefit somewhere. The trial conducted by the FDA in the US has shown that plasma therapy reduces mortality by up to 35 percent."
Medical Director and Principal Investigator of Plasma Therapy at Delhi's LNJP Hospital Dr. Suresh Kumar said: "We can't question the ICMR trial. But we administered it on 114 patients. We only gave it to those who had oxygen saturation level below 93 percent and it improved the oxygen levels from 85 to 95 percent. In others, fever subsided and in some cases the respiratory rate became normal."
LNJP hospital in Delhi government's largest COVID-19 dedicated facility and till now, more than 3,000 patients have recovered from coronavirus and discharged from the hospital.
Medical Director at Rajiv Gandhi Superspeciality Hospital Dr. BL Sherwal said: "We are conducting it on 88 patients and the study is still on. It does not have adverse effects and that is very important. Even ICMR doesn't say that the therapy has adverse effects. So even if there are minor benefits then we can explore it and see how it can play a role in causing relief to the patients."
The World Health Organization last month was cautious about endorsing the use of recovered COVID-19 patients' plasma to treat those who are ill, saying evidence it works remains "low quality".